When Leadership is a Choice, Choose to Lead Like a Champion

Instructional leadership. Transformative leadership. Distributive leadership. Call it what you want, but school leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that impact student learning (Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004). In a profession that is experiencing dangerous enrollment declines in teacher preparation programs, educating 1 in 5 school-age children that live in poverty, and fighting a five-year teacher attrition rate, school leadership has never been in higher demand.

But why is school leadership so critical?

Well, as educators, we work with children. We often spend more hours with our students than they spend at home. We thrive on student progress, propel student success, build global citizens, and as John C. Maxwell states, “fail forward” to transform “mistakes” into valuable learning opportunities. We learn to teach like champions because quite frankly, there is no other option. In the $686 billion industry that we work in, there are children’s lives at stake in the classrooms that we manage every day (Odden and Picus, 2013).

So, if we are to teach like champions (thanks, Doug Lemov), we need school leaders that will lead like champions. Yes, research has shown that collective work responsibility, supportive principal-teacher collaborations, quality principal preparation programs, and shared teacher leadership is essential to school success (Louis, Dretzke, & Wahlstrom, 2010). Yes, we have learned that providing clear directions, investing in people, and redesigning the effectiveness of the organization are non-negotiable variables to creating sustainable school improvement (Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004).

It hardly comes as a surprise that research has also shown instructional leadership to be significantly associated with teacher collaboration for school improvement (Goddard, Goddard, Kim, and Miller, 2015). This perceived collective efficacy in school improvement is a powerful force. Basically, when teachers feel confident in their capability to reach goals in the classroom, they are more likely to be successful in exceeding the expectations. The research of Goddard et al. (2015) indicates that collective efficacy is significantly (and positively) associated with increased mathematics and reading achievement. This finding rings true, even after controlling for school and student background characteristics and prior levels of achievement.

In a nutshell, my fifth grade students would tell you that it’s a three-step process: Dream it. Believe it. Lead it.

However, this brief synapsis hardly scratches the surface of the complexities of organizational change in education. Being a school leader is tough! There are competing priorities that demand your attention in a fast-paced world that often demands a quick solution. Whether you’re talking about school finance or accountability measures or teacher evaluations (I’ll stop here and spare you the rest), it is not an easy job to relentlessly champion for the rights of our little people.

But, listen up! We aren’t talking about movement toward releasing the next MacBook Air or a self-driving automobile. We’re talking about championing for the education of our youth, our future, and our world. And guess what? Research has proven time and time again that school leadership is critical to educational success.

With this being said, I am not just talking about principals or superintendents, or district or central office personnel. This leadership thing goes far beyond our instructional coaches or data management coaches, or teachers or community.

Leadership has everything to do with everyone that walks the halls of every school in our country. To enlist the wise words of the late Stephen Covey, “Leadership is a choice, not a position”.

That’s right. It is a choice. It is a choice to collaborate to provide high quality academic instruction. It is a choice to establish collective efficacy to enhance school climate. It is a choice to elevate student achievement with school-wide improvement plans. It is a choice to invest in professional development to hone our teaching craft. Regardless of who you are in the education arena, it is your choice to be a leader inside the four walls of a school, outside on the playground, behind a desk, or in the hallway.

As educators, it is time to strengthen our collective efficacy to lead like champions. It is time to own the fact that choosing leadership is non-negotiable because it is attached to the empowerment of students that will someday live in this world that we are creating for them. It is a choice that we must make every day because the best part about this education thing is that there are 180 days every year, where we get to model excellence that will surely impact the collective efficacy of our future generations.

Leadership is not defined by a position, but by our actions to guide our students toward a better tomorrow, restore integrity to our practice, and invigorate our commitment to leading like champions.

So, then, I conclude with a simple question: which choice will you make?


Brown, E. (2015, September 24). More than 1 in 5 U.S. are (still) living in poverty. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2015/09/24/more-than-1-in-5-u-s-children-are-still-living-in-poverty/?utm_term=.afac5b3e21c3

Goddard, R., Goddard, Y., Kim, E. S., & Miller, R. (2015). A theoretical and empirical analysis of the roles of instructional leadership, teacher collaboration, and collective efficacy beliefs in support of student learning. American Journal of Education 121, 501-530.

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach like a champion 2.0: 62 techniques that put students on the path to college. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Louis, K. S., Dretzke, B., & Wahlstrom, K. (2010). How does leadership affect student achievement: Results from a national US study. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 21(3), 315-336.

Maxwell, J. C. (2011). Failing forward. The John Maxwell Company. Retrieved from http://www.johnmaxwell.com/cms/images/uploads/ads/Failing_Forward.pdf

Phillips, O. (2015, March 30). Revolving door of teachers costs schools billions every year. National Public Radio: Education. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/30/395322012/the-hidden-costs-of-teacher-turnover

Sawchuk, S. (2016, March 30). Teacher-prep enrollment continues to decline. Education Week, 35, 26, 4. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/03/30/teacher-prep-enrollment-continues-to-decline.html